Students of pharmacology often believe that they do not need to cultivate advanced writing skills. Yet like all scientists, pharmacologists must be able to effectively communicate their hypotheses, procedures, methodologies, results and conclusions. The clear, precise and logical presentation of data is the core of pharmacology writing, enabling other researchers to replicate experiments and thereby arrive at reliable, reproducible results.
Though you may be required to submit a number of different kinds of paper during the course of your pharmacology degree, the most common one is likely to be the lab report. Far from being a routine matter of hastily ‘writing up’ your results, a well-written lab report demands a good deal of careful thought, planning, and attention to detail.
A lab report is a presentation of the objectives, procedures and findings of a laboratory experiment. Unlike most essay formats, a lab report is divided up into six sections: Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Your report will be assessed for the lucidity and precision of the presentation of your results, the quality of your analyses and conclusions, and the style and clarity of your writing.
The Structure of a Pharmacology Lab Report
Your title should be succinct yet maximally informative regarding the core focus and content of the report. It may also reveal the conclusion, though this is not necessary.
An abstract is a highly condensed, stand-alone summary of the report as a whole. A good abstract should be clearly and succinctly written so that researchers are able to quickly assess the degree of relevance of the report to their own research.
The introduction should clearly and concisely outline the general objectives of your study. It may also provide any required background information, beginning from the broader context and leading up to the hypothesis.
Materials and Methods
This section should provide sufficiently thorough and precise details about the experiment so that others can replicate it. Avoid unnecessary detail, and include only what is necessary in order for the experiment to be accurately reproduced. If your experimental procedure is taken from a lab manual, do not copy it out but simply reference the source, noting any alterations or innovations you may have introduced.
Here you present your data in summary form, preferably tabulated for ease of reference. All tables, charts, graphs, diagrams and figures must be numbered and labelled so that you can refer to them in the discussion section. This section should not include comparisons of your findings with those of previous studies, nor examine why the results were or were not consistent with your predictions. All such interpretation and evaluation of the results should be saved for the discussion section.
This is the most important section, in which you must demonstrate your ability to understand and interpret your experimental results. This is where you assess the quality and limitations of your data and procedure, evaluate the extent to which the findings support your hypothesis, discuss potential sources of error, analyse any anomalies, explain your outcomes, and compare your results with those of other studies.
Your conclusion discuss the quality and significance of your results, as well as identify the shortcomings of the study and their implications. It may include a statement of the broader practical and theoretical implications of the study, and point to areas of future research that might follow from it.
Here you must alphabetically list all the source materials referred to in your report. This may include your textbook or lab manual, and any research papers you have cited. Be sure to format your references in strict accordance with your department’s preferred citation conventions.
Appendices are only necessary when you have unused data that may be relevant to your study but which was not discussed in the report. If appendices are added, be sure to refer to them at least once in the main body of the report.
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